Case study - UK ‘Big 6’ energy supplier

Discovery and digital solution architecture on a transformation project for one of the UK’s household brands.

Overview

Working alongside the digital consultancy arm of one of the world’s largest professional services companies, I spent several months during 2015 as Digital Solution Architect on a project for one of the UK’s ‘Big Six’ energy suppliers. My work involved running workshops, establishing requirements, validating solutions, and working to align with other streams being carried out around the business and with third party agencies.

Unfortunately due to agreements in place I am currently unable to include the names of the companies within this case study.

Background

The project originally came about because of a need to upgrade the core business systems to manage customers and billing. The original system had been around for almost 20 years, had incredibly long lead times for updates, and was beginning to cause problems due to the lack of agility and fragility caused by so many years of technical debt. The codebase was convoluted, and was difficult for new developers to get up to speed with quickly.

On starting the replacement process, the company realised that there was actually great potential here not only to replace the primary billing system and remove “grey IT” (all of the informal workarounds that people had created), but to prompt real business change. As such it was decided to extend the focus of the project – to improve the digital platform and experiences, better support customer interactions, and to prompt wider organisational transformation.

The project

I was brought in as a digital specialist once the decision had been made to extend the scope of the work being done. The plan was for me to work as part of the digital team, to ensure that digital customer experiences were considered as part of the decision making, and that any systems and implementation approaches could support this as best as possible.

I was also to champion the fact that better experiences shouldn’t just stop with customers and screens – any interactions and interfaces, no matter the medium, should provide a great experience. As such I looked at cross-device strategies, cross-channel interactions, experiences for internal staff using admin tools and back-end systems, and how we could better integrate digital elements into the business processes.

End-to-end processes

The company that I was working with had already identified end-to-end processes for a customer’s lifecycle of interactions, based on industry models and their extensive research. These were:

These processes provided the structure for the activities that followed.

Workshops

Each of the end-to-end processes were allocated between two and four days of workshops. Typically:

The workshops were intended to bring together a real  mix of people – typical attendees included those from the energy business and strategic partner across the roles of:

My role was as part of the digital team, and I was primarily involved in Day 1 and Day 3/4. My role was to help prepare workshop materials (detailed ‘as-is’ process maps, case studies, activities, and initial research), attend or facilitate workshops, gather information around needs, and to start to consider whether there were ‘gaps’ that needed to be filled in terms of system support.

The intended output of the workshops was always a set of requirements that would be signed off by the business. These were linked back to key value levers in order to ensure that they were relevant, and were assigned priorities based on complexity and impact.

Deep-dive sessions

Unsurprisingly, the workshops helped us to identify areas where we needed to further understand the capabilities offered by potential solutions.

A number of ‘deep-dive’ sessions were run by software solution architects and subject matter experts, which were intended to better inform us in greater detail on how requirements could be met. I attended several sessions in order to better understand the software options and to inform my work.

Solutions & architecture

Once the workshops had been completed and research had been gathered, recommendations were made back to the business both in a high-level sense and for individual processes. A team of software experts were responsible for the overall architecture, with my recommendations feeding into the areas where there would be digital and customer experience overlaps.

My work here was to ensure that digital and customer experience had a strong voice within the overall solution. I was responsible for:

Key areas that I looked at included:

I advocated a service-led, evolving, componentised approach, attempting to steer away from some of the issues that had previously come about from tightly-coupled systems that could not keep up with the rapid development of digital. It was important for digital elements not to be seen as a ‘grey box’ in an overall systems diagram, but instead something that was intertwined with business processes and other elements of the transformation.

Third party alignment

As well as the project I was brought in for, there was also another related project happening concurrently, aiming to initially refresh the design of the site before the two streams merged later on. There were a lot of crossovers, and understanding the impact of the systems and technologies that had already been put in place for the site refresh was an incredibly important element of the work that I was doing.

Working on this project were other partners – a multi channel user experience design agency, a brand design consultancy, and a communications agency. Due to my agency background I attended all-agency meetings and workshops to as a bridge to our project, and to ensure that there was alignment where necessary.
Due to the number of different parties involved, I also created a set of proposed digital principles, aiming to ensure that everyone had the same focus regardless of involvement.

In addition I performed expert reviews of the beta release, assessing usability, accessibility, performance, code quality, and responsive implementation.

Senior stakeholder presentations

At several points throughout the project I was involved in presentations back to the business, including some to extremely senior executives, including people such as the Group Managing Director.

The range of communication required, from exec-level overviews through to deeply technical software architects was a challenge, and required that all information presented had to be carefully considered to ensure audience fit.

Project continuation

My involvement came to an end once the initial phase wrapped up. The project then went into a more detailed design and build phase, and individual components are due to be rolled out both internally and to customers over the next two years.

Summary of involvement

  • Initial 60 person kick off – most people’s first exposure to the project, including mine.
  • Preparing case studies and resources for a selection of the workshops (alongside other Digital team members).
  • Attending all Day 1 workshop sessions.
  • Attending/facilitating Day 3 workshop sessions.
  • Requirements capture/aid moderation for some Day 1 and 3 sessions.
  • Attending deep-dive sessions for specific products.
  • Sessions to map requirements/business case/value/estimation.
  • Architecture – not primary architect but feed in digital components.
  • Future thinking, and consideration around project component lifespans.
  • Website beta release expert review.
  • Solutions & recommendations based on requirements/gaps.
  • Input into business case, resource/implementation planning, architecture.
  • Liaising with third party agencies.
  • Presentations to executives.
  • Creation of internal comms and documentation.
  • Alignment with other internal digital programmes – meetings with key team members, review of systems and work phases.
  • Creation of digital principles.

Contact me

If you'd like any more information about what I did on this project, or would like to talk to me about doing something similar in the future, please get in touch.